African Serval attacks toddler at birthday party
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A fun birthday party was cut short after an animal attacked a baby at South Bend's Potawatomi Zoo.
The shocking video surfacing after Sunday's birthday party took a scary turn.
It was a first birthday party. As a way to make it more memorable, one local mom decided to throw the party at the zoo.
Like many others, she paid a special fee to have a personal encounter with an animal of their choice.
But she didn't expect what would happen next.
In this video sent to ABC57, you can see Cailey Keltz holding her son, as he tentatively touches Copper an African Serval, on the back, from behind, at the Potawatomi Zoo.
And then, you can see the cat hiss and jump up, clawing the infant's head.
Keltz didn't want to speak with ABC57 News on camera on Monday, because she's speaking with an attorney.
But she says, she's traumatized and can't imagine how her young son feels.
She can't believe that a dangerous animal would be allowed around children.
"[It's] never actually happened before. He's been around thousands of people through our animal ambassador program," Marcy Dean, the Executive Director of the zoo says. "Infants all the way to 100. So he's encountered many different ages."
Dean was shocked when she heard about what happened with their hand-reared cat.
"He's been interacting with people since birth. He's been around people every day. He goes on walks at the zoo everyday," she adds. "We're always very aware of his temperament, we're always aware of how he's feeling. The keepers are very interactive with the cat, they know when he needs to be taken away or has had enough touching or feeling for the day."
So how did this happen?
Dead says they're still looking into it.
As of now, she believes her staff took every safety measure.
And there's quite a few safety procedures to protect both people and the animals.
"There's also a policy in place where only one person touches at a time, and the keeper staff and education staff are very strict with that," she says.
These birthday parties, with animal encounters, especially Copper, are very common.
"The family paid an upgraded fee to have an interaction with Copper, which is a very normal occurrence," says Dean. "It happens all of the time. He's done hundreds of birthday parties here at zoo."
But, they may make some changes to ensure the safety of everyone.
"People don't sign a waiver when they book parties and we don't have people sign waivers for encounters. It happens every day here," she explains. "We will be looking at the potential of having people sign waivers, moving forward, to protect us and both people involved."
While the zoo is looking into this, Copper will not be making any appearances.
He is off exhibit and off of programming, until they can figure out what made him snap.